Monday, February 25, 2008

The Life of a Free Range Aspie

Autism, Aspergers, PDD, PDDNOS are all conditions that exist on the Autistic Spectrum. All are classed as "disorders" in the DSMIV. That means they represent a billing code - and the world is filled with "cures" and advocates of "cures" for the whole range.

Inasmuch as there seems to be no serious consensus on what causes autism, or whether, in isolation, it's a problem outside of the extreme, (and those extremes do have protocols associated with them), the faint aroma of bubbling snake oil ought to be tickling your sinuses at this moment.

Some of us who are unquestionably on the spectrum do not see it as a "disorder" so much as a distinct difference with inherent communications difficulties - at least, when it's not in it's extreme forms. In many ways, it's social and personal impacts are similar to more obvious things, like blindness or deafness. And, as is well understood, any sensory deficit brings with it compensations that are arguably advantageous if the differently abled person finds a niche where they can bring that enhanced ability to bear.

(You know, I believe that's the first time I've ever used that PC phrase in a literally meaningful way.)

But I will say that "differently abled" is a much more useful way of thinking about aspergers, autism, and indeed almost all "disabilities." For the most point, the fact that such a person is unable to cope in the way almost everyone would requires they develop abilities that are comparatively rare by definition. And that - especially when those abilities are guided and developed with that idea in mind - is a valuable thing.

Unfortunately, groups like "Autism Speaks" are unwilling to comprehend that. Indeed, they are unwilling to even admit that autistics capable of communicating their preference to not be spoken for exist. As for aspies - well, there's nothing wrong with us that a few months in a skinner box couldn't fix. It's merely demoniacally inspired willfulness. It should not be particularly surprising that Autism Speaks and allied organizations are composed almost entirely of social conservatives; people for whom "not fitting in" is considered a crime of willful disobedience, or a disability of such crippling extent that any "cure" up to and including lobotomy or abortion is better than the "disease."

If you have stumbled across this almost unavoidable (and odious) viewpoint in a search for autism information, you might wish to trundle on over to for the autie point of view, or you can drop by for a mother's perspective on successfully raising a "free range aspie," without the "benefit" of most interventions and no aversives at all.

Todd is now in high school - and not a particularly aspie-aware one, despite our best efforts. And yet, while being more aspie than I am in many ways, he has friends, he's well liked, he's respected by his peers and his teachers, and this is all despite behavioral issues that one could easily label as "annoying."


The fact is, when everyone involved knows what's going on, it's a lot easier to avoid tripping the xenophobe circuits that lurk in our hindbrains. Our reptilian bits are convinced that what is concealed is potentially deadly dangerous - and there's been nothing in my conscious history that could argue with that first presumption all that effectively. Once we know that an annoyance is merely that - an inevitable and understandable consequence of a person being who they are, it's a lot easier on everyone involved. Particularly the aspie or autie who is no more immune to seeing themselves as being dangerously different than anyone else.

But of course, before you can be upfront about what you are, you have to understand it yourself. Alas, I had no words for what I was before my early forties - while Todd's mom knew from very very early on.

And, I should add with a proud grin, didn't much care. Nor did his dad (not I) - I will say with equally proud smugness. As a result, he's had appropriate accommodations his entire life - with no expectations whatsoever along the line of "fitting in to the world around him." That's an excellent thing, both philosophically and practically - if there's one thing a person on the AS spectrum is unlikely to be able to do effectively, it's "fit in" - and efforts in that direction will trigger pink monkey syndrome.

Trust me on that - my entire primary and secondary education was an exercise in tossing a pink monkey into the primate cage to see if he'll be able to pass THIS time.

It's hard on the pink monkey - and trust me when I tell you, it can end up with rather scuffed "normal" chimplets and primate attendants.

Of course, living in an area with larger catchment is a great thing; Todd was lucky in that he nearly immediately found his pink monkey posse and we-all just gutted it out as he geeked it up with his strange little friends.

I never, EVER want to hear the word "Pokemon" again.

And at the same time, I realized that with a shift in time, there I was geeking it up with MY strange little friends with the equally baffling Dungeons and Dragons - a bootleg first edition, actually. No, paperback.

Yeah, THAT old. Hell, I even wrote supplements. Todd's obsession never reached those heights - in regard to THAT topic. But the capacity will serve him well, since he didn't have parents who swatted him every time he wandered off into his head.

And yet, if you are concerned that you are doing the wrong thing as a parent, allow me to reassure you to a degree. I've come to the conclusion that in regard to my own personal configuration and nature, I had the worst parents possible. My mother was neurotic to the point of insanity (borderline, perhaps) and if my father was not a clinical sociopath - it was probably due to him being barely clever enough to avoid any significant attention.

So, aside from the obvious, the problem was that I could never rely on my parents to do the right thing, or even the predictable wrong thing. All I knew was that to bring an "instance" to their attention would raise it to the level of an outright "situation."

But nonetheless I managed to survive and find a niche. I am now fifty and content with my life - a fact that would probably baffle the hell out of an impartial neurotypical, for I have nothing of significance that most people would equate with proof of success. Me, I have all the proof I need.

I look at most of the things I'm supposed to want as "crap I have to dust." It's amazing how starkly different your values are if none of them involve impressing other people and expanding your social network. It's not surprising that many neurotypicals still see us as alien and therefore dangerous; there's absolutely nothing they think of as prime motivators that strike most aspies as being good things. Social dominance. Control of large, complex organizations. Having a full roladex. "Winning."

Todd LOVED t-ball until he discovered that winning meant someone else had to lose. Then he was done. He loved martial arts - as long as it wasn't a "sport." And he's one hell of a good fencer in particular and loves swordplay in general - but not at all interested in scored matches.

Like me, he's only interested in becoming better than he was last week. And like me, at some point, having had to come up for air, he will run head on into the fact that he's objectively as good as anyone else doing what he does - possibly better - and have no freaking idea what to do about it.

Fortunately, it appears that there's already a profession intended to deal with this matter.

We call them "agents." And pragmatically, that's the most significant accommodation needed for any aspie, whether they are literal agents, or simply family, spouses and partners that act in that way.

Pick any aspie of significance - like, say Einstein - and you will find that there was a person who is steering them toward the best applications of what they are, and steering others who need those talents toward them. I would not be horribly surprised to find that a large percentage of those persons have as rare a wetware configuration as our own.

But even left to our own devices, and having to cope with very nearly the worst possible combination of circumstances, I note that as we age, we tend to settle down and, as I said, find our niches. With help, we can probably find more impressive or lucrative niches - but I wonder to what extent that actually matters to us as aspies. It probably matters more to the people to whom we matter, frankly.

I think of myself as well-tested proof of concept.

My writing is distinctly aspie-style communication - something you may come to recognize as you go from place to place, reading what other aspies and auties have to say about themselves and their lives. I have little or no motivation to create other than the act of creation, whether it is writing or artwork. I love electronic media because it eliminates most of the out-of -pocket expense of being an artist or writer.

I've only lately really grasped that sometimes, in order for the effort to be meaningful, there has to be some objective proof of utility. Or, at least, that's my feeling. Lord knows, within the art world, I could point to exceptions. Nonetheless, those exceptions seem to get a lot of attention and attract commissions, so perhaps it's merely a different expression of my view.

Had I had different advantages - such as the upbringing Todd enjoys - I would very probably be ensconced in some comfortable tweed-lined academic niche. I'm not at all sure that I'd be more content than I am, and I'd only be as content as I am if I had people to cope with the things I could not cope with well or at all.

But certainly I would be of greater utility to more people and be making a broader, more lasting and I would hope positive impact on society.

On the other hand, with exactly the wrong set of circumstances - I could have been Karl Rove or Condi Rice. So all things being equal, I'll settle for the angels I have. I was on my way to achieving a niche of that sort when a parental idiocy sent me into a state of clinical depression that left me rather behind the curve.

But seeing as that diversion left me with an expertise and understandings I hope to ghu no more than a handful of other people can match, I am content - for I still have decades to apply it, goddess willing and the sky don't fall.

I think it's reasonable to state that whatever I think about the views parents in some factions of the autism awareness movement, generally parents wish their children to be as happy and as successful as they. And I'm here to say that no matter how badly you think you have screwed that up in your well-meaning way, that's probably still possible.

Whether you understand why they are as happy as they are, and think of themselves as successes when you don't is quite beside the point, really.

But of course it will be ever so much easier on everyone if you accept them for what they are. It could be worse, after all.

You could have a charismatic 89 IQ high-school linebacker with abnormally high testosterone levels and an addictive personality, doomed to a career in door to door appliance sales.

Frankly, I'd take Todd over even an average teenager. Some times Todd screws up, of course, like any other inexperienced human being. But the thing that relieves me is that he always errs on the safe side; he doen't take foolish risks and he does not seek out the company of people who do. I don't think I can think of an instance of him making the same mistake twice. I get to sleep at night, knowing for near certainty that there will be no emergency in his life that cannot wait for daylight - and it will almost certainly be deliberately caused by someone else.

Usually someone who thinks they "know better" and have a right to impose that vision upon us.

On such occasions, with such people. I find myself having no difficulty maintaining eye contact and smiling. None whatsoever. Oddly enough, they find it a lot less reassuring than all their theorizing says it ought to be.


oldguy85308 said...

Your very last sentence kind of pulled my hair just a bit. (Not any ones fault) I developed panic attacks in certain social situations involving eye contact and faking interest in any ones stupid and meaningless conversations years ago
and came across a cocktail I still use sometimes in tense situations.
I'll end here this is probably redundant.

Bob King said...

Depends on the cocktail. I've found that geeking out about beer, wine or mixology is taken better at a party than politics, religion or economic theory.

oldguy85308 said...

Sorry Bob not talking about recreational stuff here. I've been taking one medication for over twenty years and have added two more
in the last nine years and last year respectively, Through the monitoring of a professional. I'm leaving out details of the mixture and strengths
so as not to encourage it's undocumented use.


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